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Liberia - Government

Liberia is Africa's oldest republic, having gained its independence on July 26, 1847. Its political system is based on the American model, with three branches--executive, judicial, and legislative. The bicameral national assembly, the legislative branch, consists of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The executive branch consists of the president and the cabinet. The president appoints the cabinet. The judicial branch consists of circuit courts in each county, which are courts of record. The Supreme Court is the court of appeals. Within each circuit, there are magisterial courts and justice of the peace courts, which are not courts of record. Juvenile courts were established by law in 1998, but most counties lacked personnel or facilities to hear cases.

The Constitution of Liberia was adopted in 1986. Under it Liberia is established as a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: the Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches may hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in the Constitution; and no person holding office in one of the said branches may serve on any autonomous public agency.

Under Article 12, no person may be held in slavery or forced labor within the Republic, nor may any citizen of Liberia nor any person resident therein deal in slaves or subject any other person to forced labor, debt bondage or peonage; but labor reasonably required in consequence of a court sentence or order conforming to acceptable labor standards, service in the military, work or service which forms part of normal civil obligations or service exacted in cases of emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community may not be deemed forced labor.

In 2015 Liberians began debating amendments to the country’s constitution. A constitutional convention held in April 2015 in central Liberia endorsed an amendment to make Liberia a Christian country. The delegates approved an amendment limiting the term of office for president from six to four years; the term of office for senators was reduced from 9 to 6 years, while members of the House of Representatives would serve for four rather than six years. Superintendents, chiefs and mayors across the country would be elected to office rather than appointed by the President.

Voting for President, Vice-President, members of the Senate and members of the House of Representatives is conducted throughout the Republic on the second Tuesday in October of each election year. All elections of public officers are determined by an absolute majority of the votes cast. If no candidate obtains an absolute majority in the first ballot, a second ballot is conducted on the second Tuesday following. The two candidates who received the greatest numbers of votes on the first ballot shall be designated to participate in the run-off election.

The legislative power of the Republic is vested in the Legislature of Liberia which consists of two separate houses: A Senate and a House of Representatives, both of which must pass on all legislation. The enacting style is: "It is enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia in Legislature assembled."

Citizens of Liberia who meet the following qualifications are eligible to become members of the Legislature: for the Senate, have attained the age of 30 years and for the House of Representatives, have attained the age of 25 years; be domiciled in the county or constituency to be represented not less than one year prior to the time of the election and be a taxpayer.

The Senate is composed of Senators elected for a term of nine years by the registered voters in each of the counties, but a Senator elected in a by-election to fill a vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, may be so elected to serve only the remainder of the unexpired term of office. Each county elects two Senators and each Senator shall have one vote in the Senate. Senators are eligible for re-election.

Two Senators are elected from each of Liberia's 15 counties. The senatorial candidates receiving the highest number of votes in each of the 15 counties are considered Senior Senators and have a term of office of 9 years. The senatorial candidates with the next highest number of votes in each county is considered Junior Senators and have a term of office of 6 years.

The House of Representatives is composed of members elected for a term of six years by the registered voters in each of the legislative constituencies of the counties, but a member of the House of Representatives elected in a by-election to fill a vacancy created by death, resignation, expulsion or otherwise, are elected to serve only the remainder of the unexpired term of the office. Members of the House of Representatives are eligible for re-election.

Each bill or resolution which may have passed both Houses of the Legislature, before it becomes law, is laid before the President for his approval. If he grants approval, it shall become law. If the president does not approve such bill or resolution, he shall return it, with his objections, to the House in which it originated. In so doing, the President may disapprove of the entire bill or resolution or any item or items thereof. This veto may be overridden by the repassage of such bill, resolution or item thereof by a vote of two-thirds of the members in each House, in which case it shall become law. If the President does not return the bill or resolution within twenty days after the same shall have been laid before him it shall become law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the Legislature by adjournment prevents its return.

No member of the Senate or House of Representatives may be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office. Members are privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed and all statements made in the Chambers of the Legislature are privileged, and no Legislator may be held accountable or punished therefor. The power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate.

Both the House and Senate have held public hearings on critical issues including the first televised public hearings on the 2008/2009 draft budget. Every lawmaker has returned at least once to meet with his or her constituents, and the Women’s Legislative Caucus is actively reaching out to women voters and changing the way men look at women in politics.

Historically, the executive branch heavily influenced the legislature and judicial system. The Executive Power of the Republic is vested in the President who is Head of State, Head of Government and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia. The President is elected by universal adult suffrage of registered voters in the Republic and holds office for a term of six years commencing at noon on the third working Monday in January of the year immediately following the elections. No person may serve as President for more than two terms.

All cabinet ministers, deputy and assistant cabinet ministers, ambassadors, ministers and consuls, superintendents of counties and other government officials, both military and civilian, appointed by the President pursuant to this Constitution hold their offices at the pleasure of the President.

The President is immune from any suits, actions or proceedings, judicial or otherwise, and from arrest, detention or other actions on account of any act done by him while President of Liberia pursuant to any provision of this Constitution or any other laws of the Republic. The President is not, however, be immune from prosecution upon removal from office for the commission of any criminal act done while President. The President and the Vice-President may be removed from office by impeachment for treason, bribery and other felonies, violation of the Constitution or gross misconduct.

The Judicial Power of the Republic is vested in a Supreme Court and such subordinate courts as the Legislature may from time to time establish. The courts may apply both statutory and customary laws in accordance with the standards enacted by the Legislature. Judgments of the Supreme Court are final and binding and are not be subject to appeal or review by any other branch of Government.

The Liberian judiciary is divided into four levels: justice of the peace courts, magistrate courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court. Judges and magistrates are assigned throughout Liberia's 15 counties, but not all counties have a courthouse and many lack furniture and basic supplies. Judges are subject to political, social, and financial pressures and corruption exists. Trials are public and juries are used in circuit court trials, but not at the magistrate court level. Under the law, defendants have the right to consult with an attorney in a timely manner and to have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case. However, in practice these rights are not always observed. There continue to be long delays in disposition of cases and most prisoners are in pre-trial detention.

International efforts are aimed at shoring up the capacity of the judiciary. Liberia's court system is divided into four levels, including justices of the peace, courts of record (magistrate courts), courts of first instance (circuit and specialty courts), and the Supreme Court. Traditional courts and lay courts exist in rural areas of the country. Trial by ordeal, though officially outlawed, is practiced in various parts of Liberia. The formal judicial system remains hampered by severe shortages of qualified judges and other judicial officials.

No specialized court exists to address lawsuits seeking damages for human rights violations. There is a separate civil law court in Monrovia, but circuit courts in each county function as both criminal and civil courts. Specialty courts, such as the tax court, probate court, and labor court also address civil matters. As with criminal courts, specialized courts were inefficient and in some cases corrupt. A commercial court with jurisdiction over debts incurred from commercial transactions opened in Monrovia in July 2011. Individuals may appeal their cases, including human rights cases, to the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States.

Locally, political power emanates from traditional chiefs (town, clan, or paramount chiefs), mayors, and district commissioners. There are 15 counties in Liberia. Liberia is divided into 15 counties, which are subdivided into districts, and further subdivided into clans. The oldest counties are Grand Bassa and Montserrado, both founded in 1839 prior to Liberian independence. Gbarpolu is the newest county, created in 2001. Nimba is the largest of the counties in size at 4,460 square miles (11,551 km2), while Montserrado is the smallest at 737 square miles (1,909 km2). Montserrado is also the most populous county with 1,144,806 residents as of the 2008 census.

The fifteen counties are administered by superintendents appointed by the president. The Constitution calls for the election of mayors and various chiefs at the county and local level, but these elections have not taken place since 1985 due to war and financial constraints. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing the president to appoint mayors until the country could afford to hold municipal elections. The Supreme Court confirmed the president's power to appoint city mayors and county superintendents in a February 2009 ruling.

There are elections of Paramount, Clan and Town Chiefs by the registered voters in their respective localities, to serve for a term of six years. They may be re-elected and may be removed only by the President for proved misconduct. The Legislature may enact laws to provide for their qualifications as may be required.

Most local officials and offices had no independent revenue base and rely entirely on the central government for funds. Some counties were beneficiaries of revenue from mining and other concessions. Limited government resources and difficult operating conditions, particularly poor roads, meant that government services outside of Monrovia were very limited. Local officials received some funds through the County Development Fund, and the government in December distributed booklets to the counties outlining activities on which government funds were being spent in each county. The government and international donors focused on decentralizing governance and the funding process. The executive and legislative branches continued to discuss additional legislation on constitutional reforms, including bills dealing with decentralization and a code of conduct for government officials.

A National Constitutional Review Conference opene 30 March 2015 in the central Liberian city of Gbarnga. A committee charged with reviewing the country’s 1986 constitution had been soliciting suggestions from the public for possible amendments. They include the terms of office for the President, Vice President, legislators and justices, as well as superintendents of the country’s 15 political subdivisions.

people had said nine years are too long for a senator to be in office. So, it should be reduced to six years, the senators from nine to six years, members of the House of Representatives from six to four years and the president and the vice president from six to four years. That was almost a national consensus.

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Page last modified: 04-11-2015 19:09:59 ZULU